This post originally appeared in the December 12, 2022 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors and writers to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
I love entertaining, and I really love a theme, so my party menus tend to vary pretty dramatically from one occasion to the next. My “10th anniversary living in D.C.” bash many years back had iconic foods from the region, from half-smokes to pupusas, while my husband’s love of yacht rock was immortalized in our recent housewarming party with items like Hall & Oatmeal cookies and Michael McDonald’s chicken nuggets.
No matter the theme, I always have a veggie tray. I buy it pre-prepped, so crudites require very little effort. I’ll sometimes throw in a few pickled vegetables for contrast or a fancier dip if I’m feeling inspired; if I’m lazy, I still might swap in the usually superior Heluva Good! French onion dip for whatever grocery store ranch they threw in. The fresh, crunchy bites offer a needed contrast to cheese-laden or carb-heavy appetizers, and always appeal to anyone at the party with dietary restrictions. It’s a great option for holiday menu planning; people aren’t as likely to completely fill up on crisp bell pepper strips before the Thanksgiving turkey makes it to the table. But I’m going to be honest, I include a veggie tray in the mix largely for selfish reasons: One of my favorite post-entertaining rituals is the Veggie Tray Stir-Fry.
The concept is simple. You take any leftover crudites and use them as the base for a stir-fry dinner. There’s a good chance your fridge has random vegetable odds and ends from the other dishes you made entertaining (or just from dinners the week before), so Veggie Tray Stir-Fry can incorporate additional leftover ingredients, too. Lean into the unexpected variety that comes from making something out of only what you have; Veggie Tray Stir-Fry never looks exactly the same. There’s no real need for a recipe; just combine the veggies with a few aromatics and a simple sauce (and throw in some protein if you want to make a more complete meal). Celery is often the last straggler on a veggie plate, so something celery-dominant along the lines of kung pao might be a good bet; my last one resembled the Chinese American classic moo goo gai pan due to some lingering mushrooms I needed to use up (an ingredient I always seem to have hanging around after Thanksgiving cooking, too). No matter the vegetables you have left, you can bring additional variety with different sauces — throw in some doubanjiang and tofu for something more Sichuan, or dial up the fresh basil, Thai chilies, and oyster sauce on another night.
Leftovers are an inevitable part of entertaining, and while it can be enjoyable to work your way through items like extra brats or mac and cheese for a couple of days, it gets old quickly. The Veggie Tray Stir-Fry makes dutifully eating leftovers feel like a fun activity. Stir-fries are generally a relaxed weeknight meal in my repertoire; the veggie tray leftovers just make them even simpler to execute, offer an amusing challenge to spike my creativity, and help ease me back into a regular cooking rhythm. I’m genuinely looking forward to the veggie tray stir-fries waiting for me after the various get-togethers I’m hosting this holiday season.